Although the workers at Lear Seating Corp. have authorized the United Auto Workers union to call a strike if labor negotiations collapse, we are encouraged by the positive attitude being displayed by Jim Graham, Local 1112 president.
Graham told The Vindicator recently that the bargaining teams from Lear Seating and UAW have been meeting for eight to 10 hours daily and that "We're very hopeful for a quick resolution." A quick resolution is exactly what the Mahoning Valley needs to support its contention that the labor climate in this region has undergone a remarkable change since the days of the steel strikes.
Business and community leaders in the Valley, in partnership with management and labor at General Motors Corp.'s Lordstown assembly plant, have mounted a campaign to persuade the world's largest automobile manufacturer to build the new generation of its compact cars at the Lordstown facility. The area's labor climate is a cornerstone of the campaign.
Linkage: That is why the contract talks between Lear, which makes the seats used in the Chevrolet Cavalier and the Pontiac Sunfire, and the UAW are so important. If there is a strike, production at GM's Lordstown plant would grind to a halt -- and that would be disastrous.
The contract expires on Aug. 31, but an agreement before that deadline would certainly demonstrate to the decision-makers in GM's headquarters in Detroit that the Valley's workers are willing to do whatever it takes to secure the new product. Managers and workers have joined forces to increase productivity and reduce the per-car production cost for the hot-selling Cavalier and the Sunfire.
Recently, 81 percent of the production workers and 74 percent of the skilled workers at the assembly plant approved a three-year contract that clearly benefits the company. In addition, news reports showed the Lordstown plant to be one of the better producing small-car plants in the country. And, Ohio Gov. Bob Taft made it known that his administration has developed an incentive package for GM that reportedly is superior to those from other states.
Upgrade: From all indications, the assembly plant in Lordstown is the leading candidate for a $500 million upgrade that would make it the home of the new compact cars that General Motors hopes will be as successful as the Cavalier and Sunfire. The company has talked about discontinuing those models by 2004.
Local 1112 officials and management have developed a proposal for the plant's upgrade which could be presented to the company's board of directors in October.
Given what's at stake, we have no doubt that the UAW local, which represents the 320 Lear employees and the 4,500 hourly workers at the assembly plant, will go the extra mile to ensure a peaceful conclusion to the contract talks.